Whitby Maroons took a huge step towards promotion after seeing off main rivals Yarm in Saturday’s mouth-watering table-topper.
Both sides were unbeaten going into the match with the hosts just ahead of Whitby on points difference.
Whitby named an unchanged starting line-up from the previous week’s victory at Seaham.
Richard Eglon deservedly kept his place, with powerhouses Shane Young and James Gildroy coming on to the bench for some much- needed back-up, along with Nathan Kaz joining them after impressing for the Quins.
The game started tensely with both teams testing each other out and not wanting to give anything away.
Whitby were finding the scrums difficult with the much larger Yarm props gaining an early advantage for their team and winning plenty of ball.
The ball that Whitby were seeing was being quickly recycled by scrum half David Bland, with his fellow backs trying to make something happen, but on every occasion meeting an equally determined Yarm who put everything on the line.
The first real opportunity for a score fell to Yarm with a penalty 20 metres out, however the ball hit a post and dropped wide, giving the Whitby defence an opportunity to clear their lines.
The first half continued to play out as a close contest, but the much-needed breakthrough came for Whitby just before half-time. A fantastic tackle from number eight Nick Beaumont led to the ball being turned over by his team mates and the fleet-footed Gordon Bland went over the line directly under the posts to score the first points of the afternoon. The conversion was slotted over by Oliver Roberts to give a 7-0 lead going into half-time.
The second half started in the same manner as the first with a good contest on show for the supporters that had travelled from Whitby.
The scrums were starting to improve with the versatile Bruce Reed dropping into the second row. Whitby’s next score came after some quick-thinking by captain Steve Allen when taking a quick tap penalty and passing to hooker Connor Clements.
This freed up Clements who swiftly ran down the wing before cutting inside to cap off another impressive display with a great finish.
With the conversion being narrowly missed by Roberts this gave Whitby a 12-point lead with 15 minutes left.
Whitby continued to push on and with the hosts’ pack tiring, the Whitby forwards got a firmer foothold and more than held their own.
Some big hits were on view from this gallant Whitby team with James Gildroy, Shane Young and Matt Russell making their presence felt.
This period of the game also witnessed the introduction of veteran Pete Stentiford who came on to replace influential centre Jack Pearson who had taken a knock.
After foul play just inside the Yarm half, the penalty presented Roberts with an opportunity to make the game safe for Whitby but was hit just centimetres wide of the post.
Yarm started to put pressure on Whitby but the defence stood firm with Clements, Anthoney Craig, Luke Brown and Sam Webster tackling everything that came their way. It wasn’t long after that Roberts was presented with another opportunity for a three-point kick after a Yarm centre failed to release his opponent at the tackle.
Roberts kept a cool head and took the points on offer for his team.
The afternoon was turning out to be all positive for the Maroons until a nasty ankle injury to influential flanker Gordon Bland after a very late tackle after a long clearance down field.
The referee did not see the incident so no action was taken. However, this incident gave an opportunity to George Reeves who had a positive impact on the game.
Yarm started to find some space and counter-attacked the Whitby back line on a few occasions, but fine defence work by Stuart Gregson and Scott Armstrong prevented any penetration of the Whitby tryline.
This performance exemplified what this year’s Maroons team is endeavouring to establish, a great sense of team spirit, pride and hard work and sent out the right signals to the rest of the league by keeping a clean sheet against a team who had not lost this season. The young players continue to improve and with the help of some senior players and is proving to be a good balance and bodes well for the future.
Coach Darryl Grason said: “This was a strange game because we struggled to win set piece ball but our superb defence saw us through.
“We also worked hard all week on defending the line out and the rolling maul and that paid dividends as we managed to escape the pressure points”.
Whitby Gazette man of the match: Anthoney Craig – a strong front running performance with great defence endeavour.
Yarm 0 Whitby Maroons 15